At long last, the MLB Draft is upon us! I was hoping to get more of these prospect reviews up prior to draft time, but the last couple months have been very hectic for me and I just haven’t had the time to do the research or writing that I want to put into these. With that said, I wanted to get one more out there for you all before the draft and I’ll finally be writing up a pitcher that’s a personal favorite of mine: Wake Forest right-hander Rhett Lowder.
Lowder hails from Ablemarle, North Carolina, a small town about an hour east of Charlotte. He played his prep ball at North Stanly High School, where he was twice named Pitcher of the Year for both the conference and county, as well as twice earning all-state honors. Despite his prep success, he was lightly recruited out of high school before getting an offer from Wake Forest.
Beginning the season in the bullpen, Lowder made his debut for the Deacons in the second game of their 2021 season, striking out the side to close out a win over Northeastern. He would make his first collegiate start against Coastal Carolina in the midweek and dominated with ten punchouts over six one-run innings. That outing earned him a spot in the weekend rotation. He took his lumps early on and had a couple particularly rough outings in April that really inflated his ERA, but he improved down the stretch. His best outing came in Louisville when he struck out seven over seven shutout innings. Lowder finished his freshman season with a 6.12 ERA in 67.2 innings. Despite the high ERA, he posted solid peripherals with a 25.0% K rate and 7.4% walk rate, portending better days ahead.
Coming off a dominant four start showing in the Valley Baseball League (27 strikeouts to two walks in 19 innings), Lowder was a popular pick for a breakout candidate. Taking over as the Friday night guy, he put the league on notice with five shutout innings against Lafayette on Opening Day, striking out six while allowing just four baserunners. He wouldn’t allow more than three runs in a start until his sixth, when some shoddy defense allowed seven runs (four unearned) to score against UVA. The crown jewel of Lowder’s regular season came on April 15, when he struck out 11 batters while allowing only four baserunners in eight scoreless innings against Clemson. Wake Forest rebounded from their lousy 2021 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed in the College Park Regional. Unfortunately, that’s where Lowder ran out of gas as he surrendered a season-high ten hits and seven earned runs in a loss to UConn. Wake Forest would end up going 1-2 in the Regional. Regardless, the much anticipated Rhett Lowder breakout happened as he posted an outstanding 3.08 ERA, striking out 24.9% of batters while walking just 6.2% in 99.1 innings. This performance was widely recognized as Lowder was a consensus All-American and First Team All-ACC. He also became the first in Wake Forest history to win ACC Pitcher of the Year. He spent time later that summer pitching with the USCNT as well.
Mike Clevinger posing as "Rhett Lowder" to get some work in during the lockout. pic.twitter.com/2JfPJIImD0— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 25, 2022
Rhett Lowder, RHP, @WakeBaseball— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) December 7, 2022
The 2022 ACC Pitcher of the Year, Lowder was better in conference play than outside of it and was one of the top pitchers for Team USA this summer. Strong three-pitch mix and impressive feel for secondaries. pic.twitter.com/iNYf4dUVHN
Expectations were high for both Lowder and the Deacs in 2023. Neither backed down as both went on to historic seasons. Lowder was untouchable in three non-conference starts to begin the season: 19 IP, 11 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 26 K. His worst start of the season was his first in conference, when he allowed four runs in five innings against Duke. Given the offensive environment that college baseball in 2023 was, that is an incredible achievement. He did not allow more than three earned runs in a start for the rest of the season. He had almost as many scoreless starts (seven) as starts allowing more than one earned run (eight). Wake Forest won each of Lowder’s first 18 starts of the season. That ended in the College World Series semifinals against LSU. Not that it was Lowder’s fault as he had arguably his best start of the season, allowing just five baserunners and striking out six over seven scoreless innings against possibly the most talented lineup in the country. His final season numbers are comical: a 1.87 ERA in 120.1 innings, 30.4% strikeouts and 5.1% walks. He unsurprisingly ran the table on awards, earning consensus First-Team All-American honors as well as being named ACC Pitcher of the Year for the second straight year. If not for a historically excellent season by his opponent in that last game, Lowder likely would have been the national Pitcher of the Year.
Rhett Lowder (rhp, @WakeBaseball): 82 pitches (63% strikes). Threw 30 FB, 24 SL, 28 CH. 20 whiffs. Commanded all three pitches.— Burke Granger (@burkegranger) February 19, 2023
5IP, 4H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 10K.
FB: 92-94/95 (92.7) | 2066-2348 | 4 s/m
SL: 82-86 (83.2) | 2313-2753 | 10 s/m
CH: 84-86 (84.5) | 1735-2166 | 6 s/m pic.twitter.com/3LGNmJ0Djq
RHP Rhett Lowder shows the entire arsenal in this 1-2-3 2nd inning. FB 92-94 with good armside life, CH 85-87 with really good tailing action, firm 84-86 cutter with late cutting action, SL 82-84 with tight vertical shape. Throws strikes, easy delivery with great extension pic.twitter.com/5pr1ZQIvEP— Will Hoefer (@whoeferbaseball) March 30, 2023
Lowder was widely considered a first-rounder entering the season and has only boosted his draft stock since the winter:
MLB Pipeline: 6
Keith Law ($): 9
Kiley McDaniel ($): 8
Baseball America ($): 10
Let’s talk about the arsenal. Lowder starts off with a sinking fastball that sits 92-95 and can run up to 97 early in outings. That doesn’t really fit with the current meta of riding four-seamers that we see in MLB and it’s a pitch that will likely get more groundballs than whiffs at the next level. If there is a concern with any of his pitches it’s this one, as it’s fair to question how well this type of fastball will play in the zone. The money pitch is a power changeup at 86-89 that dives off the table with armside run. It’s perhaps the best changeup in the draft and Lowder is willing to use it in any count against hitters on both sides of the plate. The arsenal rounds out with a mid-80s slider that shows nice two-plane break and he has good feel for locating. It’s a great pitch for getting chases from right-handed hitters.
It’s fair to question the viability of his delivery at the next level as it’s not quite the smoothest operation. To quote Keith Law:
...he starts all the way on the first-base end of the rubber and lands too early, so he cuts himself off and has to come slightly across his body to pitch to his glove side. He also plants his front leg too soon, spinning off the front heel and putting more stress on his arm with the abrupt finish.
Some adjustments to his delivery could be beneficial as, while he threw a lot of strikes in college, he didn’t always command his pitches especially well. This showed up in a couple of his Tournament starts as he had some particularly long innings where he had trouble locating.
Lowder is fascinating as a fit for the Royals in particular because he pitched at Wake Forest. Wake Forest is one of the best college programs in the country at developing pitchers, in large part thanks to their advanced pitching lab that includes a biomechanist on staff. They tend to be able to get the most out of their pitchers. This could be viewed as a double-edged sword. On one hand, this theoretically means Lowder is an advanced prospect that could move quickly through the farm system without requiring too much development. On the other hand, this could mean he doesn’t have the ceiling you might prefer in a top-ten pick. In my opinion, given Kansas City’s track record of pitching dev, I don’t see this as a bad thing (and no, I’m not going to look at a few months of improved performance from A-ball pitchers and assume the dev staff has turned a corner. I haven’t forgotten John Lamb).
If you value intangibles, Lowder checks a lot of those boxes as well. He is a true student of the game, spending countless hours in Wake’s pitching lab to hone his craft. He’s professorial in his approach and likes to play chess and paint in his free time. Also, come on now, that’s 80-grade hair. Just an ultimate vibes guy.
As of right now, Rhett Lowder strikes me as a high-probability back-end starter than can contribute on a big league staff as soon as 2025. Given his strike-throwing ability and the quality of his secondary stuff, it’s hard to see a situation (barring a series of injuries) that he can’t make an impact on a big league staff. Whether he can become a top-of-the-rotation guy depends on whether he can improve his overall command and the quality of his fastball to miss more bats and increase its in-zone playability. I’m of the general opinion that the Royals should stick with hitters at the top of the draft, but if they’re hell bent on an arm, this is a guy I’d like to see them grab.
What do you think of Rhett Lowder at #8?
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